barking dogs seldom bite

barking dogs seldom bite


  • to threaten someone, but not take action or follow through with threats
  • someone who makes a lot of noise but is harmless
  • be all show, posture or bluster
  • appear fierce or scary, but to be weak in reality

Example Sentences

  1. “I haven’t finished my maths homework. You know what Mr Peterson is like, he’ll shout so loud they will hear him in the next town.”
    “Yes, but barking dogs seldom bite. It’s just his way.”
  2. That horrible couple next door keeps threatening to call the police when we play music, but barking dogs seldom bite.
  3. We have to put up with all this political posturing and noise every general election, but barking dogs seldom bite, and nothing ever changes.
  4. There is nothing to fear. Barking dogs seldom bite. They cannot do anything to us.


This old English proverb alludes to a dog that is busy barking, can’t bite. It’s not talking about dogs in reality but as a metaphor for someone who speaks a lot but doesn’t follow through with actions.

There is a similar quote from Chairman Mao in China using the phrase ‘paper tiger’. He claimed that ‘reactionaries (Western Imperialists) were paper tigers’. A paper tiger would be seen as a hollow or empty threat.

The Earliest printed record of the proverb can be traced back to 1719 in Dictionaire royal, François-Anglois, et Anglois-François, by Abel Boyer, a French-English lexicographer, journalist and miscellaneous write.


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put your foot in it

Meaning: say something (by mistake) that upsets, humiliates, or embarrasses someone

Example: Carla put her foot right in it when she congratulated her neighbour on being pregnant. It turns out she's not expecting but had just put on weight. Read on


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