IT was a discarded nappy, foot and paw prints, and the sound of a crying child that drew police to two-year-old Dante Berry, who was found in bush.
Grubby, with prickles in his bare feet and wearing nothing but a long-sleeved top, the Mildura toddler was found with faithful German shepherd Dasher in state forest more than 4km from their Deakin Ave home.
Almost 14 hours after raising the alarm, Dante's mum embraced her little boy again at 10am yesterday.
More than 100 police, firefighters, neighbours and strangers were thanked by his parents for their part in the desperate search.
"We are happy, but not surprised, to learn that his faithful dog Dasher stayed by his side and was also found safe and well," they said.
The pair's adventure started at 8.30pm on Tuesday, when Dante's mum Bianca Chapman discovered they had disappeared from the front yard.
A search was started as the pair wandered down dirt tracks and through scrub in thunderstorms.
Mildura Sen-Sgt Stephen Phelan said a nappy on the side of a dirt track 2km from home, with foot and paw prints around it, set search parties on the trail about 8.30am yesterday.
"From our information he's renowned for pulling off his nappies," Sen-Sgt Phelan said.
But it was a sharp cry in knee-high scrub that led senior constables Carol Rigby and Greg Lee to find Dante several metres from the track, "stunned" and dehydrated.
Department of Sustainability and Environment tracker Will Hannah said tracks showed the pair had gone around in circles.
"You could just imagine what was going through his little mind - lost (and) dark. Lucky he did have his dog to keep him warm overnight," Mr Hannah said.