Bark Up the Wrong Tree

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Meaning of Idiom 'Bark Up the Wrong Tree'

To bark up the wrong tree means to waste your time or energy by doing something in the wrong way or by taking the wrong path; to do something based on an incorrect line of thought or course of action. 12,3


The form this expression takes is usually the present participle form, 'barking up the wrong tree.'


"The FBI went after the company's accountant for a year but it terms out they were barking up the wrong tree. He wasn't the embezzler at all."

"If you think you can force me to resign you're barking up the wrong tree," said the embattled politician.

"Look, I can't loan you any more money," said Frank. "You're barking up the wrong tree."


From the early 1800's, this idiom American idioms comes from raccoon-hunting, which usually took place at night. Sometimes, a raccoon being pursued by dogs would manage to fools the pursuers as to which tree he scrambled up causing the dog or dogs to focus all their attention on the wrong tree, barking up at the raccoon that was not there. Thus the dogs were "barking up the wrong tree." Of course, it is also possible for hunting-dogs to bark up the wrong tree in other types of hunting, such as squirrel hunting. 1,2

1. Ammer, Christine. American Heritage Dictionary of Idioms. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013.
2. Kirkpatrick, Elizabeth M. The Wordsworth Dictionary of Idioms. Ware: Wordsworth, 1995.
3. Ayto, John. Oxford Dictionary of English Idioms. Oxford: Oxford U, 2010.

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