LAST Saturday I paid a visit to a dog hydrotherapy fitness centre, in order to watch a Neapolitan Mastiff puppy enjoy a swimming session.

Gregarious, outgoing and sweet natured, Cassius is everything that you could wish for in a puppy at the tender age of just 10 months, even though he does weigh more than 50 kilos (almost eight stone).

Swimming is something that Cassius does on average every two weeks and the sessions take place at a specialist centre called Diamond Dogs in Middlesbrough.

Cassius’s owner Sue Hind explained how exercise for a giant breed like the Neapolitan Mastiff needs to be gentle and carefully regulated, so hydrotherapy is ideal.

A weightless form of exercise in a controlled environment, swimming has zero impact on a dog’s joints and muscles.

Highly intensive, I am told that five minutes swimming in the hydrotherapy pool is equivalent to five miles of walking.

As we were waiting for the pool to open, I watched as “our puppy” rolled around playfully on his back, giant paws waving in the air, and found it hard to imagine that his forebears were once fighting dogs.

In ancient Rome this breed was used in the Colosseum to fight anything from tigers to wild boar and even men. Also used for guarding, these dogs even went to war with the Roman Legions.

On arrival at the hydrotherapy centre, all dogs are bathed in a generously proportioned walk-in dog bath, before they are allowed to swim.

It was a bright, crisp spring morning on Saturday and the pool, with gentle waves rippling the surface, had wispy tendrils of steam rising upwards from the water.

Owner Lee Westwood explained that the water is kept at a constant 28 degree temperature, which not only warms the muscles, but is also very beneficial for arthritis sufferers.

Most dogs start with just five minutes of actual swimming, which is gradually increased with each session. Young Cassius can now manage 15 minutes with ease.

So, having enjoyed his obligatory bath, Cassius was then strapped into a life jacket and was good to go. He was led down a slope into the water where he was joined by a member of staff who gently guided him around the pool.

Large “Neo” paws made very big splashes at first, but then our boy settled down and into his stride, which could be clearly observed through the window in the side of the pool.

The pool assistant could feel when Cassius began to tire and that is when the session ended. He was dried using a combination of blow dryer, cabinet dryer and towels and then for that final touch, we had the choice of either “Eau de Kennel” or “Paul Barker” to leave him smelling divine.

While waiting for Cassius to dry, I met the next two clients who were patiently waiting their turn.

The first was Cody, a mature German Shepherd lady, 13 years young. Her owner told me how this was their sixth session and she couldn’t speak highly enough of the benefits.

Three months ago, I was told that this dog was hardly able to walk due to age associated joint problems and yet here she was, tail wagging enthusiastically as she prepared to enter the water.

Then there was an eight month old German Shepherd puppy Cass, with both hip and elbow dysplasia, although you would never have guessed from the way that he was bouncing up and down.

This boy doesn’t wear a life jacket now, nor was he led into the water, he simply ran down the ramp when called and proceeded to swim joyfully, chasing and retrieving a ball as it was thrown across the water by the pool assistant.

And then it was time to leave. We had all enjoyed a lovely morning and Cassius, besides getting exercised, was also bathed and ready for his show the following day, where he not only won his class, but then went on to take fourth position in the Working Group.

On Sunday, young Cassius, aka Cleos Ogoglio at Diamoneo, made his first ever visit to Crufts dog show at the NEC in Birmingham where he exceeded all expectations by standing Best Puppy in Breed. I think this boy is definitely one to look out for in the future.