There’s nothing like sitting up high in the bleachers, cheering for your favorite dog to take a flying leap into a giant tank of water. At least, if you’re a four year old boy.

That’s what I discovered when I took my two young children to the World of Pets Expo a few years ago. It was a cold weekend, and the thought of being cooped up with two energetic boys pushed me to buy myself a ticket to the expo, hoping that there would be something – anything! – there to entertain them.

With these low expectations, I headed off to see what I assumed would be a bunch of dogs milling around at the fairgrounds.

By the time I headed home again, I was stunned that my network of moms knew nothing about this kid-friendly day of fun. So I did what all moms do…I shared it with them. And the following year, friend after friend thanked me for sharing this treasure-trove of family fun with them. So I’ll do the same for you.

the basics: world of pets expo

This year (2016), the World of Pets Expo will take place at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium on January 29-31. It’s open that Friday afternoon from 2 pm to 8 pm, Saturday from 10 am to 7 pm, and Sunday from 10 am to 6 pm. Parking is free, although you may have to walk a bit from your car, so bring a stroller if you have a little one who will tire out from the short trek.

And the best part, for young families strapped for cash, is that kids under 5 can visit free! Kids under 13 are only $5 each, and adults can get in for $10. If you have family pets, feel free to bring them along for the trip! As long as they’re well-socialized, they’re allowed to join the fun.

perles family favs

One big favorite at the expo was front-and-center as soon as we got there – the Chesapeake Dock Dogs. We all sat up on bleachers and watched dogs of all sizes take a running leap into a gigantic pool of water. The kids took bets on how far each dog would jump, and they got a kick out of watching the ones who chickened out at the last minute.

Then there were the dog agility trials, essential a doggie obstacle courses with a stopwatch. Nothing like watching dogs weaving in and out of cones, jumping over poles, and racing through a tunnel to get my kids’ adrenaline flowing.

If you time it right, your kids can also enjoy an animal comedy show called “Johnny Peers Muttville Comix.” Laugh along with the crowd as you watch trained dogs walk tightropes, jump on their hind legs, climb ladders, and play tricks on their clown-like owner.

But the expo focuses on more than just dogs. Throughout the course of the weekend, you might catch a gerbil show, a mouse breeders’ show, a cat show, or a Guinea pig-a-thon. Your kids might find an animal storytime area or get up close and personal with birds, cats, or reptiles in different areas of the expo. And don’t forget to visit the petting zoo, for a hands-on experience your little ones will love.

So get out to the fairgrounds, and bring out your child’s inner animal lover – and your own!