Anyone who has a dog knows how they like to bark at just about anything, but why does a barking dog have anything to do with making the wrong assumption about something? The origin of : Barking up the wrong tree may seem obvious to most people but its simplicity is why it’s so effective.
This saying dates back to the 19th century when, as you would expect, “barking up the wrong tree” does in fact have to do with dogs and hunting. Sometimes your hunting dog would not be able to catch their terrified pray because said pray had scampered up a tree for dear life.
However, as is sometimes the case with people and many other species, your dog may not have been particularly bright and you would find that their sense of smell portrayed them as evidenced by them barking at the base of the wrong tree.
The earliest known printed citation is from 1832 and found in James Kirke Paulding’s Westward Ho:
“Here he made a note in his book, and I begun to smoke him for one of those fellows that drive a sort of a trade of making books about old Kentuck and the western country: so I thought I’d set him barking up the wrong tree a little, and I told him some stories that were enough to set the Mississippi a-fire; but he put them all down in his book.”
From then the saying caught on in the US appearing in several American newspapers throughout the 1830s.