6 junio, 2024

Meaning of ‘Dog that barks does not bite’: context, variants and examples

The saying «barking dog does not bite” refers to those people who shout a lot, are aggressive and noisy, but who, when acting, rarely carry out their threats.

The saying comes from the observation that some dogs that bark a lot are really just looking to scare. In many cases, these are dogs that are scared and trying to scare the other with the intention of avoiding a confrontation.

This same thing happens with many people. Those to whom the saying applies are people who tend to be boisterous, as they prefer to scare others rather than take action against them.

Simply put, a “barking dog” is a metaphorical way of referring to someone who looks dangerous but is actually harmless. It also implies the belief that the truly dangerous people are those who do not speak, but rather act.

Origin of the saying

It is not known exactly when the saying «a dog that barks does not bite» arose, but it is believed that it was the peasant peoples of eastern Europe who created this saying.

It is believed that the sheep farmers of that region of Europe were the first to notice the fact that their sheep dogs barked a lot to keep the flock together and on the move. However, very rarely did they attack or bite, which gave rise to the saying.

Contexts where the expression «Dog that barks does not bite» is used

This expression is usually used mainly in two conversational contexts:

To calm the nerves

In most cases, it is used as a way of transmitting calm and calm to someone who is worried about having received some kind of threat from another person.

In this context it is used to convey the idea that threats are hollow and that there is no reason to worry.

as provocation

The other context in which it is usually used is as a provocation towards a person who is angry and making threats. In this context it is used with the intention of getting the other person to act irrationally.

That is, it is used as a form of insult or derogatory expression that suggests that the other person is a coward and that they will not dare to act.

Variants of the proverb in Spanish

There are some variants of this expression in the Spanish language. The two most common are:

Dogs that bark, neither bite nor take game. Barking dog, little biter.

Furthermore, there is an equivalent expression involving cats:

Meowing cat, never a good hunter.

Examples of the use of «Dog that barks does not bite»

There is no reason for you to worry, Maria. Those are hollow threats. Remember that a dog that barks does not bite. – Juan, do you really think Carlos takes all my things out into the street? – Not at all, Teresa, you concentrate on finding the rent money and don’t worry about Carlos, what a dog that barks doesn’t bite. You will never dare to jump from the highest springboard! You only say that to show off in front of others, but I know that a dog that barks does not bite.


Cervantes Virtual Center (undated). CVC. Multilingual proverb. File: Barking dog, little biter. Taken from cvc.cervantes.es. Paredero, H. (2021). The history of proverbs: «Dog that barks does not bite». Taken from telam.com.ar. Meanings (2018). Meaning of Dog that barks does not bite. Taken from significados.com.

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