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Everything that you are personally doing is great. Especially varying high vs. low value treats.

Manhandling and physically punishing your dog isn't going to teach him to walk on a leash - it will just make going on walks stressful for both of you. Walks are supposed to be fun, and it's his walk as much as yours! It's good to work on a heel for situations where it is required, but as long as the leash is loose it is totally fine for your dog to sniff the ground and check things out.

Some dogs are harder to walk on a leash than others; my Cocker mix is normally pretty good but can be impulsive (and is reactive) so there are times we struggle. My other two dogs are fantastic and very easy to walk. There really aren't any hard and fast rules. To me, it sounds like you are both doing great; disregard what these people say and do your own thing. You and your dog will have a stronger bond because of it.
 
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