National Geographic Daily News

Christy Ullrich Barcus

National Geographic

Published June 12, 2014

Layka, a military service dog wounded in Afghanistan and featured on the June cover of National Geographic magazine, has a new career: free-fall equipment tester. The Belgian Malinois was recently selected to test a specially designed canine combat vest, and her skydive was captured in the above video.

The role of dogs in the U.S. military has been evolving since World War I. They have been used extensively in Afghanistan and Iraq to protect troops by leading patrols and sniffing out explosives. Different vests have been used over the years to help protect the dogs during combat, but handlers found that some of the heavier vests caused the dogs to overheat.

In recent years, the company Hardpoint Technologies, working with the special operations community, has been working on a vest designed to improve a military dog's performance and safety. Hardpoint developed a lightweight, multipurpose canine work vest that can be used across a range of military missions, from patrol to detection.

Layka tested the vest in a parachute jump last month. The vest is equipped with convenient straps and handles so that troops can easily carry a dog or even "wear" it as a backpack. It also has multiple access points to attach leashes, and pockets that can carry ice packs to help cool the dogs in hot climates. The vest also serves as a harness for tandem parachute jumps with a handler.

While in Afghanistan, Layka was shot by enemy forces during a search operation. But she managed to attack the shooter and protect her handler, Staff Sgt. Julian McDonald, who later adopted her. The dog had to have a limb amputated and is now retired from military service.

The All Veteran Group, a team of combat veterans who apply their military skills to the civilian world, organized Layka's jump. Group president and founder Mike Elliott, who has also accompanied former President George H. W. Bush on tandem jumps, accompanied Layka and Sergeant McDonald on their jump. (On Thursday morning, Elliott made another tandem jump with President Bush in honor of his 90th birthday.)

"I was truly impressed with Layka," Elliott says. "She was very calm, very disciplined." When the airplane doors opened, Layka got a little fidgety, he said, which is typical of both people and dogs. But once in the air skydiving, she was calm.

To learn more about war dogs and their role in military operations, read National Geographic magazine's June cover story "The Dogs of War" and our online coverage, including "War Dog Helps Family Cope" and a series of historical war dog stories.

12 comments
Dan Xie
Dan Xie

at least give the dog some goggles to wear and let it know what's going. If I were the dog, I would freak out because I am confused and don't know what's going on.

And why use a dog as a tester?

Janella Rollert
Janella Rollert

As both a Certified Veterinary Technician and dog lover, I was uncomfortable with this on so many levels: 

- Why no eye protection for her? WHY? WHY? 

- Telling a dog "it's okay" when it is nervous reinforces the nervousness. You are telling her over and over again that it's okay to be afraid.

- The fact that all humans are nervous before their first jump, and then saying her nervousness is okay because of that is NOT okay. Humans know what is about to happen, but a dog has no idea she's about to be flying through the air. 

- She is clearly anxious after landing. She cannot even stand up. 

- Surely there is a better way to acclimate a dog to jumping than this. I'm sure a lot of dogs don't mind it, but she had no idea what was happening, and was clearly extremely anxious about the whole ordeal. 


I have the utmost respect for military dogs and their handlers, but this was very disturbing to watch. 

anne behrens
anne behrens

They forgot the glasses for the dog, which obviously is panicking. 

NG, stop supporting those things! It´s already the 2nd video with dogs treated badly in "cool" mission parachuting or skydiving. I´d expected more from you.

Elke Hutto
Elke Hutto

Headline should have read: Hero War Do Made To Sky Dive With Soldiers Wearing Snout Guard That Prevents Panting

Anis Germany
Anis Germany

This is horrible! Animals don't have to take part in human conflict and how is strapping a dog and muzzling her while she gets thrown off a plain considered something good?

Apparently loosing a leg (for a cause humans and animals alike don't understand) is not enough!

Marco Rivera
Marco Rivera

They were so concerned in filming, so they forgot to put some goggles on her. :$

Joanna Howard
Joanna Howard

My only thought was that she should've had some kind of protective goggles to protect her eyes from the wind, her handler and the other jumpers wore them, why shouldn't she?

Francisco Sayan
Francisco Sayan

Oh SHUT UP MARILYN. This is a military dog. With more bravery than you could ever hope to have.

Kathryn Redelfs
Kathryn Redelfs

While it's very cool in one sense that the dog is helping out, I couldn't help feeling sorry for her. That poor dog seemed literally scared s-less. She dragged her butt across the grass as soon as she was freed and seemed agitated. There would have been nothing in her wiring to cope with something like that. Millions of years of evolution, if there was a flyer in her species tree, it was so long ago it doesn't matter. Yeah she was calm, alright. Probably in dazed shock. Maybe we should just not involve the animal kingdom at all in our human territorial scuffles. Either as soldiers or victims.

Marilyn Manning
Marilyn Manning

After the trauma on serving in combat, this is so cruel.  Pray it doesn't happen again.  He deserves so much better

Raj Kumar
Raj Kumar

@Francisco Sayan  There is no animal call MIlitary Dog, Dog is just dog.
We trained those innocent animals to save our life buy sniffing explosives and named it "Military Dog'


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