We know, from the 1989 movie starring Burt Reynolds, that "All Dogs Go To Heaven," but the Tibetan Lhasa Apso may very well be first in line -- and for good reason:
The Lhasa Apso originated over two thousand years ago in Tibet, Bhutan and other countries bordering on Tibet. The Buddhist monks began to breed the Lhasa terrier (its original name) over eight hundred years ago in the sacred city of Lhasa, Tibet's traditional capital and home of the Dalai Lamas. The Dalai Lamas honored the Lhasa Apso as both as a good luck talisman and as a sacred animal in the Buddhist religion. The Buddhist monks believed that when the master of the Lhasa Apso died, the master's soul reincarnated into the body of the Lhasa Apso if he was not quite ready for Nirvana. Because of this, the Lhasa Apsos were virtually impossible to buy. Instead, the Buddhist monks breed them and trained them for exclusive ownership by the nobility.
Adding to its mystic, the Lhasa Apso resembles a little lion, pawing the ground with its front feet and taking a square stance when feeling threatened. In Tibetan art and literature, the Manjuri Buddha, the God of Learning is often in the company of a Lhasa Apso, which changes into a lion when danger threatens the Manjuri Buddha. Its role as a guardian was also based its excellent hearing, its terrific memories, and its superior ability to distinguish intimates from strangers. All this made the Buddhist monks value them as excellent watchdogs and guardians.
Surrounded the sacred city of Lhasa were smaller villages where the entire economy and culture supported the breeding the Lhasa Apso. So scared was the Lhasa Apso that they villagers fiercely protected specimens of the breed from bandits and adventurers. If forced to turn over a particular specimen, the villagers would secretly feed the Apso ground glass to insure that it would not survive any trip to other parts of the world. If you were not a Tibetan noble or holy man or you were an outsider, the only way own a Lhasa Apso was to receive one as a gift from the Dalai Lama. Because the Dalai Lamas saw the Lhasa Apsos as a sacred blessing and believed them to bring luck and good fortune to their owners, the Dalia Lamas began presenting the dogs to the Emperors of China, visiting diplomats, and other foreign dignitaries. This practice began in the late sixteen hundreds during the Manchurian Dynasty and continued into the early 1900's. As a result, travelers and visitors took the dogs around the world and their popularity grew. Visiting diplomats first brought the Lhasa Apso to Britain in the 1920s. They made their way across the Atlantic a few years later, and first appeared in United States in 1935.