Dogs are people, too: Inside the VIPet mind-set

You see them all the time: those magnets on the back of a minivan or SUV displaying a stick-figure family of a "golfing dad," "soccer mom," "dancing daughter," "karate son"—and their three dogs. And I'm sure that if you ever happened into one of these drivers' homes, hanging on the wall you'd find those three dogs' photos in frames positioned right beside the family portrait.

Dogs are wonderful animals. I own two myself—two rotund and hysterical pugs named Sushi and Espy. I treat them like family, and they're a big part of why I started my all-natural pet-treat businesses. But dogs aren't pets anymore. They're family members. And I, along with the rest of the pet industry, have quickly figured that out.

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Humanization of pets, particularly dogs, has been the biggest boon to the pet industry since the transition from working dogs to family companion. In fact, this transition is the largest reason the pet industry saw continued category growth throughout the recession. According to the IbisWorld's report on pet stores in 2012, people began viewing their pets as "humans" and referring to themselves no longer as "owners" but as "pet parents," beginning around 2006. This was the first step of drastic changes in the pet industry.

The traditional view of dogs and humans has been a symbiotic relationship. Dogs look to their guardians for food and shelter, while humans look to dogs for protection and companionship. This paradigm is constantly shifting and evolving. As a pet parent, my dogs are my children, and I want the absolute best for them—especially in health. I look to our dogs for more than companionship, and I think most of our customers do, too. With half the U.S. population owning at least one dog, there's high demand from pet parents for the "best."

(Read more: Cost of pet ownership tops $50 billion)

However, since 2007, consumers have become increasingly cautious of products lining the pet store shelves they would have otherwise never questioned. Large pet food and treat manufacturers have unleashed a world of distrust with consumers due to a slew of pet food and treat recalls and for cheaply sourcing inferior products from Asia.

I started my own natural pet-treat company in the midst of the recession, in 2008, with many of these factors in mind. At we offer single-ingredient dog treats and chews—like bully sticks and elk antlers—to the health-conscious pet parent. Our concept of providing these 100 percent natural choices from reputable sources has been received amazingly well by the pet-parent public. Our business is successful because we realized there was a gaping hole for natural treats in the pet industry—and we're constantly innovating to find new ways to fill it. Even as a small company today, our niche in the market can stand toe-to-toe with ingredient-laden treats from the big box stores. Last year we celebrated our placement on the Inc. 500's ranking of the nation's fastest-growing private companies, but the real judges—those pet parents—couldn't be happier. We count this as a true benchmark for success.

(Read more: The unexpected costs that come with a $5,000 puppy)

But why the recent trend in pet humanization? Now it seems dog owners take natural tendencies of canines—loyalty, devotion and respect—as the deeper emotional characteristics of love, affection, connection and full acceptance. This quickly translates into a feeling that Fido is more than a family pet; he is family. Today's family is looking for a more natural, healthy way of life. And at our company, we help provide that with treats and chews for the four-legged family member.

Think back to the last time you overheard a conversation about doggy day care or dog spas or saw a monogrammed dog sweater. The modern era of dog ownership has begun. It's becoming a more accepted practice for owners to have health insurance or even buy burial plots for their dogs. These premium offerings and services are more common in everyday life. Maybe not as extreme as canine mansions—yes, they exist—the natural pet-treat sector is considered a "premium" product.

According to the American Pet Products Association, 93 percent of all dog owners purchased treats in 2012, a trend that has shown continued growth over the past decade. And 30 percent of those owners bought natural treats (up from 23 percent the previous year). This trend is expected to rise.

Every time I see those simple little stick people on the back of a minivan, I see their simplicity but also what they really represent: a family who loves their dogs—a lot. Those representations of a family, though simple, are truly complex, because they stand for devotion and a commitment—one on which we've founded our business—to provide the very best for that furry kid.

By Avrum Elmakis is founder and CEO of TDBBS, the parent company of, and a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network. He founded TDBBS in 2007 with his wife, Lauren, in Richmond, Va.

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