So You Want a Puppy...
First rule: Do not fall for the puppy because it is cute! All puppies are cute and very lovable and it takes an extreme effort to walk away from one. Do your homework to make sure you get the best opportunity at a healthy, stable companion.
Puppies should come with paperwork regarding worming done, vaccinations given, be vet checked and have the AKC registration in hand, as well as at least a sample of their food to make transition easier. Many breeders will have their own version of written instructions and are more than willing to answer questions "after the sale". Don't be embarrassed to call your breeder with any questions.
See everything in writing. There are breeders who claim many things for their dogs, such as hip, elbow and eye clearances, testing done for CNM, EIC, even the pedigree, or mislead by skipping over those particulars. Don't believe it until you see the paper, no matter how wonderful the person may seem. Learn to ask the right questions. Ask for everything in writing.
Does the breeder participate in Field Trials, Hunt Tests, Obedience, Show or other competition? Do they have the titles and awards to prove it? If not, ask yourself why they are breeding the dogs they have if they haven't proven themselves. Ask yourself how you can take the breeder's word for it that the puppy should succeed in its specialty if the puppy's parents, at least one, haven't been judged in an objective way by a standard other than the breeder's. Anyone can say their brood bitch or stud is the best hunter, best marker, best handler, smartest, prettiest, easiest to train, etc. Where's the proof? It takes a lot of money, time and effort to participate in any type of dog event, let alone the health clearances, feed and vet bills. If they aren't competing at least some of their dogs on some level, what is their experience and knowledge base for the breed? Why are they breeding, if not to produce the type of dog they enjoy running themselves?
You should be able to meet the mother of the litter but not all breeders will always have both parents on site. (Good breeders try to find the best available stud that is a good match for their girl and it isn't always their own as it takes quite a bit of time, effort and money to campaign a dog. It also takes some effort to get that girl bred to an "outside" stud.) The dam should be in good health, though be aware that many moms lose their coats, some more than others, as well as body condition to some extent, during whelping and weaning. This is normal, but the dam should not be seriously underweight by the time the puppies go home. The puppies should look and smell clean, as should their living space.
Some breeders will not allow visits to the pups before reaching a particular age, to prevent their puppies from getting something contagious. This is not necessarily a bad thing or means they are trying to hide anything.
You and the breeder should have already had a detailed conversation about what you want out of a pup before you ever make an appointment to see the litter. The breeder should be familiar with the characteristics of the parents and, particularly, of each puppy. Take the breeder's word for it if they tell you that puppy isn't really the laid back one just because it happens to be sleeping when you visit. It could be the rowdy one resting up for the next round. Whether you want a family dog, hunter, hunt test hopeful or all of the above, you and the breeder need to discuss what type of pup will suit you best. It can be a tough call and no one can guarantee what each pup will absolutely turn out to be, but in watching day to day, the breeder should have a pretty good idea of each pup's basic character. It is very common for pups to be sold on pedigree alone and for the breeder to pick out and ship the pups best suited for each buyer, without the buyer ever meeting the pup in person. This places a great deal of responsibility on the breeder to assess their litters well.
Don't be surprised if the breeder asks you for references. Be ready for the time and financial commitment. If you don't have the time to do some daily exercise with the dog, you aren't ready to have one. If you aren't willing to commit to basic obedience to make your dog a good citizen, don't get one. Labs give you everything they have, in return, please give them the time, attention and quality of life they deserve. Do your homework. If people stopped buying puppies produced by people who aren't in it for anything but money, like pet stores and puppy mills, they can be put out of business. People buy the pup feeling sorry for it, to get it out of there, but, hard as it is, that only perpetuates those who continue to neglect the health and welfare of their dogs. Think all Labs are Labs and you don't need all those silly health clearances and a titled pedigree to get a good one? Think again. There's more to the story than a sweet little puppy.