Barking Up The Wrong Tree


Someone who is barking up the wrong tree is making a wrong assumption about someone or something.

Example: When I went to grab some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies from the kitchen, they were all gone! At first I thought my son had eaten them all, but I was barking up the wrong tree. It was actually my wife!

(In other words, the father jumped to conclusions.)

Synonyms: jumping to conclusions, off base

A dog barking up the wrong tree.
Silly dog, it’s the other tree!

The Origin Of ‘Barking Up The Wrong Tree’

What’s the origin of the phrase ‘barking up the wrong tree’? This common expression is believed to come from dogs and hunting. Here is why:

Dogs are sometimes used during hunts because of their strong sense of smell, their ability to chase and track other animals, and they add a bit of extra security for the hunter.

While out hunting in the wild, a dog may give chase if it spots another animal. During the chase, the fleeing animal may attempt to escape its barking pursuer by climbing a nearby tree.

Dogs are not the most skilled climbers, so normally they’ll just stay on the ground and start barking up the tree rather than going up after the animal. The dog’s relentless barking indicates to the hunter where the fleeing animal has gone to. Now, during all of this, it’s possible that the dog makes a mistake and chooses the wrong tree. If this were to happen, they would literally be ‘barking up the wrong tree,’ as the saying goes. (See the picture above for a depiction of this.)

Anyway, now let’s look at how old this idiom is. It goes back to at least the early to mid-19th century. For example, its earliest appearance in print (from what I’ve seen) is from the Knickerbocker Magazine, 1836:

​”You’ve been barking up the wrong tree, cried the Ohioan.”

Examples Sentences For ‘Bark Up The Wrong Tree’

  • My dad was barking up the wrong tree when he accused me of eating the last of the cookies! It was actually my sister.
  • After investigating the crime rates in my city, it looks like I barked up the wrong tree because I thought they had gone down.

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